US Repeals Laws of Mathematics


“And so this proves that, for purposes of the U.S. economy, one plus one no longer equals two, but a seasonally adjusted, annualized integer to be announced and subsequently revised.” (Photo by Ed Brambley/Flickr)

It’s official: As we do not believe in climate change, because to do so would expose us to unacceptably harsh expectations, so we have ceased to believe in arithmetic, for the same reason. This mindset (can we call it that, since the “mind” part seems to be absent?), once the province of right wingnuts, has been adopted by the government of the United States so that, unfettered by the iron logic of numbers and their former, simplistic relationships (you know, addition, subtraction, that sort of thing), the government can proclaim its own brand of creationism — job creation, wealth creation, money creation and above all creation of the myth of the robust and immortal recovery.

Consumer spending is up. Everything else in the American economy depends on consumption, because we don’t do anything else anymore, and consumer spending has happily been on the increase through the last quarter of 2014 and into the new year, according to closely watched government reports. Which means, of course, that America’s Back! Except that, in the same period of time, retail sales are sharply down. According to closely watched government reports. Through the legendary Christmas shopping season and into the new year. So, people are buying more, and stores are selling less. Mathematically, those two things cannot coexist. Consumers can’t consume without involving retailers. The only solution: screw mathematics.

 Job creation is triumphant. In March alone we added 126,000 jobs to the robustly recovering economy. Okay, that was weak, everybody was expecting twice that many, but hey, it’s going in the right direction. Unless you note that in the same month 277,000 adult Americans, um, left the labor force. Our happy, happy unemployment rate of 5.5% counts people who are in the labor force who do not have jobs. The 93 million people who are in this jobs purgatory would completely gum up the mathematics of recovery, so they have become officially invisible, along with mathematics itself. Screw mathematics.

Lower gas prices will be a great boon to the economy, the cheerleaders of recovery have been chanting. According to the New Math, when the price drops for one of the things consumers buy, they will buy more of everything, and the whole economy will benefit. (Can’t make that work on paper? Screw mathematics.) Inconvenient fact: gasoline consumption in the U.S., as measured by the Energy Information Agency, has been declining since the oil-price freefall began in the fall of 2014. Apparently we have also suspended the law of supply and demand. The price of a commodity that everybody uses has dropped dramatically, and everybody is buying much less of it. Go figure. Go figure again.

Bad loans are a good investment. How does this relate to mathematics? The notion that adding things give you not just a sum, but a change in nature. Take a loan that can never be repaid, add it to a loan  that far exceeds the value of its security, throw in a few more and presto! a security (collateralized debt obligation) that is rated aaa, offers a high return, and is eagerly snapped up by equity managers everywhere. Ask, “How does adding bad things together give you a good thing?” and someone will be heard to mutter, “Screw mathematics.”

But, dear consumer, in this world where jobs are created but not available to us, where gas is cheaper but we still can’t afford to go anywhere, where it is our patriotic duty to spend what we do not have; it is not mathematics that is getting screwed.




Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to US Repeals Laws of Mathematics

  1. Tom says:

    Oh man. Mr. Lewis you have a superb way of setting your reader up for the right cross that puts ones ass on the floor. This essay says so much without being verbose that i have to stop and tell you – you’re doing a great job! i eagerly await each posting.

    You show that no matter how dire the circumstances, big business gets the lions share and the rest of us do without.

    You indicate the depth and complexity of the predicament we’re in by implying the question that if our politicians don’t “get it,” just how bumpy is our transition to the new normal going to be and just how “soft” is our landing going to be?

    These people really don’t know what it means to “do without” so their rate of cutting back is so far off in basic timing that it’s stunning to think about. The water will probably run out this year! This will end so badly.

    Your last sentence was the knock out punch.

    Stellar post, Mr. Lewis.

  2. venuspluto67 says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if as many as 30 million people end up needing to flee California. I’m hoping maybe Wisconsin will recover at least some of its transplanted natives who fled their home state for what were at the time economically greener pastures. Maybe then we could finally be rid of Governor Scott Walker in 2018. :-)

  3. venuspluto67 says:

    PS: Pot-growing is still illegal in California, so asking the pot-growers to cut back probably wouldn’t have much of an effect.

  4. gwb says:

    Unregulated water consumption has been going on in California for decades; it has now simply reached the end of a very long tether. The photo at this URL was taken in the San Joaquin Valley in the late 1970s, published in a USGS study on land subsidence, and shows the dramatic drop in land elevations even during that period, due to groundwater withdrawals for irrigation:

    The day is coming in the not too distant future, when California will no longer be the nation’s fruit basket and salad bowl…

  5. Mike Kay says:

    I wonder about this manifestation of humanity we call modern civilization. Humans have survived and thrived upon this Earth at least partly due to an uncanny adaptability to a wide variety of conditions. Yet this modern civilization is a calcified relic, unable to make the slightest of adaptations, even when such efforts might give it a longer lease on life. We observe over and over again the impotence of any institution in the face of current challenges. Its the status quo or bust, and such a mindset ensures the bust.
    Given the uselessness of our leadership it behooves the individual to begin to envision a workable future, and to take steps to bring it about.

  6. Tom says:

    This comment is for THIS essay!

    Good morning children, can you say Death Spiral? Verrrry gooooood.

    Corporate profits are back at the levels reached in 1990, 1999 and 2008 that presaged recessions and a sharp downturn in sales and employment.

    [Looks like the corporatocracy is sinking along with life on the planet.]

  7. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Perhaps the motivation behind all this screwing of mathematics is the famous dictum from the oh-so-brilliant (and responsible) mind of the great John Maynard Keynes: “In the long term we are all dead.” Fine, so let’s eat, drink, be merry and screw all mathematics, for tomorrow we kick the bucket.

    This screwing of mathematics already began when Keynes’ progeny chose to ignore if not deride the simple arithmetic of indefinite exponential growth, which many environmentalists have repeatedly pointed out shows plainly the absurdity of such growth. Physicist Albert Bartlett was one gentleman who had been crusading for a greater understanding of the said mathematical absurdity.

    Speaking of physicists, I find it an endless source of delight how most of them seem to continue working in their academic ivory towers on mathematical abstractions concerning the origins of the universe while paying zero attention to the very concrete issues of resource depletion and environmental degradation now facing us all. I have yet to hear of Mr Stephen Hawking warning everyone on these issues (unless I missed out on something). Presumably, it doesn’t concern him, or he considers himself above such petty concerns. Only equations expressing the workings of the universe are worthy of the attention of so lofty a mind as his.

    It is in this respect that, hey, *I* actually also want to say: screw mathematics.

  8. Keith Hayes says:

    Bill number 246 of the 1897 Indiana General Assembly claimed a method to square the circle and implied various incorrect values for Pi, such as 3.2. Because a Professor C. A. Waldo of Purdue was in the legislature the day the bill was read the bill did not become law. He saved the day at a time when some believed the world could be saved.

  9. venuspluto67 says:

    Murphy’s Golden Rule: They who have the gold, make the rules. And that apparently includes the rules that govern whether 2+2 equals 4, 5, 6, or 9 on any given day. I’m sure Rush the Gasbag will be sure to tell us which of those it’s supposed to be today on his dumpster-fire of a radio-show.